I've said it before and I'll say it again; politics is as much about luck as anything and boy has Jeremy Corbyn been lucky! He wasn't lucky to win of course, that was a nailed-on certainty as soon as his name got on the ballot paper "to make sure we have a proper debate" and his luck just got better, and better, and better. The more the Labour big guns came out with their dire warnings, the more popular the man became, but they still don't get it. The political landscape has and is changing dramatically now that the genie is out of the bottle and people realise there really is another way to run an economy and country.
The idiotic £3 supporters scam was just too good a wheeze for the mischievous to ignore and the Westminster political elite simply failed to notice that vast swathes of the normally disenfranchised electorate had been waiting for a chance to have a voice. I predict that membership of the Labour Party will explode as people become increasingly energised by the novelty of having a Loyal Opposition that actually starts talking about some seriously different policies.
British politics has been turned upside down this weekend and will never be quite the same again. Oh the sheer joy of seeing all those long faces of former Shadow ministers when the result was announced and the realisation dawned that they'd not only backed the wrong horse, but they'd backed themselves into a corner called political oblivion.
I don't think it will be long before Yvette Cooper joins her husband in the States, but canny Andy Burnham could see which way the wind was blowing and has been rewarded with her former portfolio at the Home Office. And what a brilliant wheeze bringing back Tony Blair's former flat-mate Charlie Faulkner and to his old job as Shadow Justice Secretary! For a retired geography teacher-looking Opposition Leader, he's certainly got style and a sense of humour in my book.
It will be absolutely fascinating to see what other names emerge over the coming days as Jeremy puts together the rest of his team. I notice the Sunday Times is flagging-up Keir Starmer as a possible name and I certainly feel the former Crown Prosecution Chief who has a clean political sheet is definitely a possible future leader. My guess is he's a canny guy, having had a proper job before entering politics and unlike the wrong-footed political elite, soon saw the direction of the wind, in fact a bit like Hilary Benn who was never a great fan of Blair and hence able to hang on to the Foreign Affairs portfolio.
I found it reassuring to hear Tom Watson, the newly-elected deputy leader speaking on the BBC 1 Andrew Marr Show and making it plain that Jeremy will be encouraged to ditch all that nonsense about leaving Nato and scrapping Trident. As a good democrat the new Leader will have to accept the will of the party on such issues and fortunately there's no chance of him getting that through the party. But most of the other stuff really resonates with the public and I predict the Tories will come to rue the day they thought it would be a jolly jape to make sure the Labour Party elected the 'no-hoper' Jeremy Corbyn.
Astonishingly, for the first time, Prime Minister's Question's might just be about holding the Prime Minister to account in future as Corbyn has signalled an end to the ritualised public school-boy antics every Wednesday and instead is likely to usher in some clinical forensic examination. This is bound to be another hugely popular development with a public utterly turned off by the sight of grown-ups yelling at each other for 45 minutes once a week. Bringing in other front bench colleagues to face-off Cameron is another brilliant wheeze and the Prime Minister will have to rethink his tactics very carefully if he tries to obstruct Corbyn by refusing to play ball.
I have to say I haven't felt so positive about things for a very long time and to hear the Tories and the right-wing press foaming at the mouth is absolutely wonderful because it will prove to be a completely ineffective response. A whole new generation of young voters in particular want to get involved in serious debate about an alternative to the tired old policies of austerity and cuts being the only way. Jeremy's election will deliver that and it will be hugely popular.
Of course Corbyn won't be leading the party into the 2020 election, but he will have ensured that whomever emerges over the next four years will be fighting that election on a radically different platform of popular new policies that will give millions hope for a better future that doesn't involve further privatisations, endless public service cuts and a society descending yet further into greater division and inequity. There really is a third way and we're living through its birth and development. Exciting and more hopeful times indeed, but I really feel the need to repeat that Corbyn must start a debate about reform of our electoral system.
I've no doubt I've upset a few readers, but I'll end by saying this seismic change can only be good for an utterly beleaguered probation service. We know Harry Fletcher has been advising Corbyn and there's this on the latter's website:-
Jeremy Corbyn: I will be brief so that the two Front Benchers can respond in good time. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) for getting this debate, which is necessary and important.
I am a member of the Justice Committee, and we have listened to a great deal of evidence about the operation of the probation service. We have heard some very serious, deep concerns from long-standing, committed, professional people who want to deliver a good probation service. They now find themselves being hawked around to the lowest bidder, as the tendering process gathers pace. It is quite shocking that, by May, 80% of rehabilitation services of all kinds will be in the private sector, not the public sector. Whoever is elected to form the next Government in May will have to preside over a system over which they have quite limited control and where there is a real problem with communication between the different sectors of the service.
Our duty as Members of Parliament is to hold the Government to account, and the duty of members of the Justice Committee is specifically to hold the Ministry of Justice, including the Lord Chancellor and the other Ministers, to account. They have three roles that apply to this debate. The first, obviously, is ensuring the safety of the judicial system, so that those who are convicted are genuinely convicted. Secondly, there is the role of the prisons and what happens in them. Do people come out of prison more or less likely to offend and more or less well equipped to deal with the challenges of society? From that stems the problem of reoffending. I am far from convinced, however, that dividing up a service and attacking the professionals in it all the time, as well as the current Lord Chancellor’s obsession with privatising every conceivable aspect of the judicial process, helps to achieve any of that, and does not make the situation considerably worse.
We have had evidence from NAPO, which has provided briefings to the Committee and to many hon. Members, and I want to mention some of its concerns:
“Same day reports (SDRs) and oral reports at Court do not allow sufficient time to carry out checks with police and children’s services”.
That must be a matter of concern. Staff shortages have led to cancellations of sex offender programmes and domestic violence programmes, and obviously extreme danger goes with that. Because of a
“lack of fully qualified probation officers…domestic violence cases are being allocated to Probation Service Officers who are not experienced or qualified to work with these complex cases”.
“National Probation Service (NPS) in some regions is no longer sending representatives to Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences”
because there are not enough staff.
The whole point of a rehabilitation process is to link all the agencies. What is happening is the opposite of that—the break-up of the link between them. Instead of meetings of a group of professionals from different public sector organisations, there are meetings of competing privatecompanies—some of which are inhibited by data protection law from sharing information with each other. We have reached an absurd situation and I hope that the Minister will tell us that everything is well, that things are going to get better and that he will halt the privatisation process that is going ahead with such speed.
At the Justice Committee before December, we were informed of potential conflicts of interest with the new chief inspector of probation. The Secretary of State promised us an answer by today. Today is not yet finished; there are still nearly nine hours to go, in which an answer can be given. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what action has been taken on that issue, which is of great concern to the public.
The debate is about the probation service, and it is also about the kind of society that we want to live in. I had the good fortune to go with the Justice Committee on a visit to young offenders institutions in Denmark and Norway. I have also visited quite a lot in this country. I pay tribute to the people who work in YOIs. It is not an easy job. One of the most interesting times I had was a long session with a group of young offenders in Feltham, where I went with my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra). It was just us and the group of young offenders. Listening to their stories was very sad, and so was listening to what they had done. Listening to their lack of ambition for when they came out was even worse.
Surely, the criminal justice system must be based on the idea that, although those who have committed crimes must face a judicial process and there are occasions when it is right to send someone to prison or give them community service—there is a range of options—the primary objective is to bring them out as better people, with personal ambitions and a personal network, rather than as people facing the same issues they faced before with a high likelihood of reoffending. We all pay the price for their reoffending, in the lost skills of those who go to prison and the damage to communities.
We talked to people at the MultifunC institutions in Denmark and Norway, and the system is expensive to operate; I do not doubt that. It is much more intensive and professionally supported than our services, but the level of reoffending is below 20%. Ours is well above 50% for pretty well all categories, and well above 70% for others. Something is going badly wrong.
There is no evidence to suggest that privatising the probation service, Prison Service and all other forms of rehabilitation and support does anything but create competition in the private sector and a miasma of bureaucracy. The losers are the ex-offenders, the community, and those of us—all of us—who must pay the costs in reoffending, more prisons and more sentencing. Surely, there is a better way to go about this—one that would show some respect for those who have given their lives to the probation service and who in a decent and professional way try to improve people’s lives, rather than working solely for private sector companies whose main interest is making money out of the system.